- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

For centuries poets have tried to chronicle times past with cultural iconography and scholarly pursuit. If history and poetry go together, language and culture also go together, both telling and retelling the nuances and moods of an era. American poetry is young yet this newness strikes a symbol of raw boldness and fresh imagery. Poets from Walt Whitman to Emily Dickinson, to Robert Frost and contemporary poets have eschewed their ancestors and stepped into an untouched territory, yet still followed a tradition.
In Springing: New and Selected Poems (Knopf, $25, 223 pages) Marie Ponsot captures the essence of American culture and traditions with brush strokes from a diverse and brilliant canvas. These poems detail life in New York from 1946 to 2002. They are elegiac, yet personal, and thoughtful while unsettling.It is a traditional journey traversing through a poetic life, making her one of the powerful poets of the postwar generation.
In more than 50 years of writing, few subjects seem to have eluded Ms. Ponsot's mind. Her poems capture the concerns of day-to-day life, myths and history of social and intellectual concerns. Her water, her garden, her girlhood, her womanhood, her daring pursuits and inner conflicts and answers all renew a journey, making Ms. Ponsot almost a legend.
The book opens with a group of her new poems, including, "What Would You Like to Be When You Grow Up?" For five decades she has kept that search alive through sketches offering a "lost haven in a springing world." Her language is refreshingly spirited and is packed with vigorous humanity. The result is poignant and sensual.
In "Gliding," she writes: "I envision the next leap, the next thousand years of practice, the eventual skill become like independent flight, habitual." She daringly portrays the challenge, What would it be to be water, one body of water/ (what water is another mystery.)"
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for "The Bird Catcher" (1998), in "Springing" Ms. Ponsot takes us along her delightful, challenging life and offers an enlivening feast of moods:

I am going along for the ride
I may see more riders further on
Drowning must wait till I get
And who knows who might be

With a flashlight, thermos,
Even a raft or canoe.

Maxime Hong Kingston's To Be the Poet (Harvard University Press, $19.95, 111 pages, reads like a discovery of herself. This one also has the potential to become as well known as her earlier work. As in "The Woman Warrior" (!976), which blended nonfiction and fiction in a bewitching volume, her poetry is evocative and ethereal.

Last night came dream-answers
I am bewitchment to
Change everything into words.

"To be the Poet" is Ms. Kingston's attempt to adopt "the life of the poet,"and she reflects: "The poet's day will be moments upon moments upon moments of gladsomeness. Poets do whatever they like."
In this short volume Ms. Kingston attempts to adopt "the life of the poet" by sprinkling collections of short essays, stories and legends througout. Though they were first delivered as lectures at Harvard, three chapters in note-like prose with interpolated verse read more like short diaries. Brief meditations on her parents, glimpses from her travels to the UK and Hawaii, sketches and even numerical jottings complete this unique volume.

Taking the day off, I was already
acting like the poet.
Try for poetry day and night
Try in various places
I actually felt diamonds of light
touch me.

In the last poem of the book she refers to her first book, versifying the story of Mulan, the woman warrior. "The reader of the long book lives with story and its characters for long time. The reader of poetry is awakened to the one moment. The poet truly lives the happening moment, and gives the very bodily feeling of it to whatsoever would read."

In The Blind Stitch, Greg Delaney also deals with the new and legendary:

The humming bird
pokes its beak
into diverse flowers,

all with women' names
flow right it is they should
be named after flowery or
is it the other way round?

what time and country is it?

"The Blind Stitch," a small book, with powerful images, covers a span of a few decades on three continents and then stitches it together themes of family, marriage, love and friendship into a larger world of public life.
Whether it is set in the poet's native Ireland, or on the adopted soil of America or in India, he moves friskily, his moods and his pen capturing the color and emptiness of the human soul in its search for acceptance and brotherhood.

Past the squat tea bushes and
the Tamil women
picking leaves for the tea pots of
past lounging monkeys, past

the paddy terraces.
rising in green reins to the sky

The blind stitch hopes to stitch together two essential conceits and arrange them thematically in the form of a palindrome. One deals with leprosy, portraying personal suffering and complicity by showing the needlework that mirrors an individual's life. Dedicating a poem to his mother Eileen he writes:

I'm threading the eye
of the needle for you again that

my specially appointed task, my
gift that gave me. Ma.

Surekha Vijh is a poet and writer in New York.

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